LIANA MOONIE | PRESIDENT OF NAWA FROM 1987 – 1989
Q. How long have you been a member of NAWA?
A. I have been an active member of NAWA since 1978. Shortly after the jury that accepted me as a member, I was invited to be on NAWA Board of Directors, where I have served ever since.
Q. Why did you originally choose to apply to NAWA?
A. I had been a member of several local arts organizations in Westchester County, New York; and while I had received several awards in juried shows, my exposure to the larger art scene was limited. I wanted to have access to the New York City art scene and membership in NAWA afforded me that opportunity.
Q. What about the history of NAWA is especially significant for you?
A. When I joined NAWA, I began to learn in more detail of the remarkable history of the organization, and I was then – as I continue to be now –in profound awe of the
incredible strength of will and vision of the five founding members. Their confidence in the quality of their work and their determination to be recognized and to help other deserving women artists to be recognized is a great inspiration to me. They worked together, not selfishly to further their own ends, but with the aim of extending the fields of opportunity for exceptional women artists denied access to galleries by the male-dominated New York art scene of the 1880s.
Q. To your knowledge, how has NAWA changed or remained constant since it was founded 125 years ago?
A. I believe that the fundamental mission of NAWA has remained constant over its 125 years: to support American women artists and to promote their works through exhibitions and sales of their works. Lectures, workshops and educational programs were provided to artists and the general public alike. I believe that the members today continues to promote the cause of women artists as an integral part of the national cultural heritage. Of course, the styles of art and types of medium have evolved immensely overthe 125 years, as has the challenge of standing out in the crown of the global art market.
Q. When were you president?
A. I was the centennial president, serving in 1987-1989. During my term, NAWA celebrated its 100th anniversary. It is hard to believe that a quarter of a century has now passed then.
Q. What did it mean to you to be the president of NAWA?
A. Being president of the best known and oldest continuously active organization of women artists in America was, and remains, a great honor. I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish both during my presidency and afterwards. I relish the very many friends I have made, and the congenial and rewarding years of working with the several Boards of Directors that I have been privileged to serve on. And I am very grateful for the many awards and honors given to me, especially the NAWA Medal for Outstanding Service to the Arts in 2007 and the NAWA Lifetime Achievement Award given to me in 2012.
Q. How would you describe your vision for NAWA (past or current)?
A. The spirit of unselfish idealism. Women artists helping other women artists, was the basis of this organization, and my vision was to ensure that this spirit was not going to die.
Q. How important is the growth of NAWA and/or how would you envision its growth?
A. It is important that NAWA continue to grow its membership throughout the country and to establish regional chapters of the organization. It must expand beyond its historical New York centric focus as art in America develops strong markets outside New York. Efforts should be made to attract younger artists and to increase diversity.
Q. What were your goals as president? Can you talk about how you accomplished these goals, or if you didn’t, what kinds of obstacles did you face?
A. In a very general sense my goals when I started my president were to prepare the organization to face the technical challenges of a very changing art environment as it entered its second century, and to preserve and showcase the achievements of its first century. Specifically, I wanted to do something important to celebrate such an incredible milestone. This necessitated creating many “firsts,” events or undertakings that had never been done before. These firsts were met initially by skepticism that they could be pulled off or feelings that they may have been a bit too grandiose for this organization. But we persevered and we pulled them off with great success.
I wanted to put together an exhibition showcasing the works of the membership over the entire 100 years. Such a grand retrospective had never been done and involved such seemingly insurmountable obstacles as getting loans of artwork of very famous artists like Mary Cassatt and Judy Chicago as well as tracking down works of members long deceased, contacting countless galleries and museums and a host of other obstacles. Not to mention, that we had only about eight months to pull this off. In what I believe was a serendipitous miracle, I was introduced to Ronald G. Pisano, a well-known art historian who specialized in the work of American women, who agreed to curate the show entitled “100 years: A Centennial Celebration of the National Association of Women Artists.” He selected representative works that spanned the century. He also prepared a monumental historical publication of the works included in the exhibition that carefully traced the visual development of the members throughout the 100 years. I also had to hire Dr. Clark Marlor, a historian, who researched who the membership had been during the 100 years and the date each one joined NAWA.
It was important that the exhibition be in a well-respected museum, not an easy task at all. Through a series of “accidents” that were nothing short of miracles, I was able to meet Thomas A. Saltzman, Museum Director of the Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, and to convince him to mount the show. In order to accomplish all of this it was necessary for NAWA to raise at least $30,000, an unprecedented sum at the time. I was most fortunate in being able to convince The John Sloan foundation, IBM and The Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund to provide us with the bulk of the funds needed; and finally I asked our members to contribute towards the balance needed.
Putting together the Centennial Exhibition, with the help of so many talented people, and such short notice was grueling on the entire organization. I felt that it was necessary to have a collection in place so that the next milestone could more easily be celebrated. So I didn’t put my mind to accomplishing what would be the singular achievement of my presidency: the creation of a permanent collection of art of NAWA members over the years that would be housed in a museum that was dedicated to exposing and advocating for women artists. I was told by many that this could not be done, that no museum would want the collection, that the cost would be prohibitive, but my experience with the Centennial Exhibition had taught me that miracles can and do happen if you persevere. And so I did. The Permanent Collection started with 17 paintings from well-known and established artists that I contacted personally. After I had this critical core collection, I started making cold telephone calls and through a series of introductions I met Jeffrey Wechsler, Senior Curator of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, one of the largest and most distinguished university-based museums in the country. My purpose for the NAWA Permanent collection was not only to preserve the works of its members for posterity, but for it to act as an inspiration for young women artists and to be a resource for researchers and art historians. Jeffrey fully understood this goal of mine I was so remarkably supportive and pro-active in accomplishing this. I am so very grateful for his generous and critical involvement. Today the permanent collection includes several hundred works of art of NAWA members, past and present. I am particularly proud of two paintings that I donated to the Permanent Collection. I asked Ronald Pisano to find a painting on the market painted by one of the five founding members, which he did. It was a small watercolor by Edith Mitchell Prellwitz which I purchased with my own funds. And the second painting, from a recently deceased member, was one that Jeffrey Wechsler wanted to add to the Permanent Collection. He was able to purchase it with funds provided by my husband and me.
Q. What are you most proud of in terms of your impact on the members and/or the organization?
A. Of course I am extremely proud of the two major accomplishments of my presidency: the centennial exhibition and the creation of the NAWA Permanent Collection. I am also very proud of some other things I was able to do for the organization. NAWA has always been headquartered in Manhattan and while the organization is national with numbers across the country, the majority of its members live in the New York metropolitan area and the Board has always had a New York centered bias. In the early 1990s my husband and I started spending winters in Palm Beach. I noticed that most of the members who live permanently in Florida had resigned from NAWA. since they were unable to participate in NAWA’s New York area shows due to the cost involved. I felt that there was a need to create a chapter of NAWA in Florida so that the membership could grow back and bring local exhibition opportunities under the umbrella of the national organization. After considerable lobbying, I was able to convince the national Board to go along with this proposal, and twenty years ago I was the founding member of the Florida Chapter of NAWA. Today the Florida Chapter has way over 100 active members and NAWA has a thriving presence in the Florida art scene. Recently I helped found the Massachusetts Chapter and am in the initial phase of helping to found a Carolina Chapter. I firmly believe that opening regional chapters across the country is critical to the future survival and prosperity of NAWA.
A few years after the Florida Chapter was started, there was a need to reach out with projects that would give the Chapter greater visibility in the community. I suggested that we start a scholarship program for high school seniors who have been accepted at a college, were talented and needy, and were committed to major in the visual arts. In the beginning, we were not able to obtain corporate sponsorships of the scholarship program, so another member and I donated $1500 annually towards two scholarships. Today the Florida Chapter has three yearly scholarships of $2000 each with money raised through various fund-raising events.
Q. How did the era during your presidency influence the women artists of NAWA at the time? How do you see NAWA’s relevance in the 2010’s? in the 21stcentury? How would you compare this to your presidential era?
A. One very big difference from the 1980s and now is the presence of the Internet and the abundance of art auctions online. NAWA already has made critical contributions to giving national and even international exposure to many women artists, it was instrumental in there being represented in museums and important private collections. Until there is full gender equality in the art market, I see a need for organizations like NAWA to continue to advocate for women artists.
Q. Do you have any advice for the current or future presidents?
A. I would advise future presidents to continue to follow vigorously the mission of the
five founding members, but to take full advantage of digital technologies to advance members’ works. Efforts should be taken at regular intervals to add to the NAWA Permanent Collection, not only the donation of works by current members but obtaining, if possible, the work of famous members of the past not yet represented in the Collection.
Q. What would an art investor care about in buying a NAWA artist’s work?
A. The work of a professional NAWA artist has been vetted by a national organization, which can provide a prospective art investor with a certain level of confidence in the quality of the investment.
Q. How can NAWA help raise an artist’s profile in a competitive market?
A. Continuing to expand the digital database of artists’ works is one way to raise our profiles. Consideration may be given to hiring a technology director who can expand the website and make use of social networking platforms; and expand the use of virtual online galleries where artists can sell work without the time and expense of an exhibit. NAWA at one time was well known for its travelling show, both to large cities and more remote areas, and internationally. Se should go back to this as a way of opening new markets for our members.
Q. How has NAWA contributed to your growth as an artist? As a person?
A. NAWA has inspired me to be a better artist from competing with my artist peers. Certainly I have changed greatly as a person by the many decades of interacting with colleagues, many who became close friends, learning the art of compromise, learning to set specific goals and achieving them. And after almost four decades on the Board of Directors, I am pretty good at Roberts Rules of Order!
Q. Has your work changed since you became a member of NAWA?
A. Yes, NAWA, and more specifically NAWA’s members, have definitely impacted my work, which continues to evolve.
Q. How would you describe your work/process?
A. My paintings spring from a love and appreciation of Nature, filtered through a meld
of ever changing life experiences. The art reflects what I see now and what I have
experienced throughout my life. In this process my inner response and outward expression
are constantly providing creative challenges. When I look at one of the wondrous natural scenes which surround us, I feel the need to portray the emotional impact of the scene, more than the objects themselves. In expressing my impressions in abstract form, I am consciously freeing form and color from Nature to focus on the essential order of things as I see and feel them.
Q. Where would you say you want your work to go next?
A. I entered the world of Manhattan galleries many years ago when the first abstract
watercolor that I had painted was accepted in the annual juried show of the National Academy of Design on Fifth Avenue. Now that I am 93 years old, I am not focused fully on where I want my work to go next. However, wouldn’t it be nice if my career ended back atthe National Academy of Design, perhaps across the street at the Guggenheim (I have always admired that wonderful architecture)? Who knows, my muse works in mysterious ways.
Q. How do you manage to find time to do your artwork with other responsibilities? Do
you think this is harder for women than men, and if so, how?
A. As with many women artists, my art has been hampered by familial responsibilities
and I did not start to paint seriously until after the children had left to go to school.
Fortunately, I am very focused and have excellent time management skills, which has been extremely helpful in helping me to find time for my artwork. With so many women in the workforce now, with spouses taking on more child-raising duties and gender equality strides that have slowly been made, I think that is probably equally challenging these days for men and women to find time to be creative. But there is still work to be done to eliminate completely all gender inequality.